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A photo of a Barking Owl (Ninox connivens)
Barking Owl

Barking Owl

Ninox connivens

The barking owl, known scientifically as Ninox connivens and colloquially as the winking owl, is a medium-sized brown owl native to mainland Australia, parts of New Guinea, and the Moluccas. This nocturnal bird is distinguished by its yellow irises, a discrete facial mask, and yellow skin on its feet. Its underparts are a brownish-grey, coarsely spotted with white, and its tail and flight feathers exhibit a strong brown and white banding. The barking owl measures 39–44 cm in length with a wingspan of 85 to 120 cm, and weighs between 380 and 960 grams. Males are slightly heavier than females, displaying a modest degree of sexual dimorphism.

Identification Tips

When observing barking owls, look for white spots on the wings and a vertically streaked chest. Their large yellow eyes and the distinctive facial mask are key features for identification. The robust body and banded tail and flight feathers are also indicative of the species.

Habitat

Barking owls favor forests and woodlands with large trees for nesting and dense foliage for roosting. They are often found near rivers, swamps, or creek beds, which provide both the large trees with hollows needed for nesting and a productive environment to support ample prey.

Distribution

This species is distributed along the eastern and northern coasts of Australia, as well as the southwest regions near Perth, Western Australia. They are also present in drier regions of New Guinea and the Moluccas. While once widespread, barking owls have become less common in southern mainland Australia.

Behaviour

Barking owls are known for their broad diet and hunting prowess, utilizing trees as perches to capture prey from the ground, trees, water surfaces, and the air. They are adaptable hunters, consuming a variety of mammals, birds, insects, and occasionally frogs, reptiles, fish, or crustaceans. These owls are also known to become accustomed to human presence, sometimes nesting in suburban areas.

Song & Calls

The barking owl's vocal repertoire is quite varied, with its territorial 'hoot' resembling a dog's bark. The intensity and pitch of the calls can vary, with louder barks used for territorial purposes and softer ones near the nest. Other vocalizations include growls, howls, screams, and a gentle bleating sound made by females when receiving food.

Breeding

Breeding occurs from July to September in northern Australia and from August to October in the south. Nests are typically located in large hollows of old eucalypt trees near water. Clutches usually consist of 2 or 3 dull-white eggs, incubated by the female for about 36 days. The downy white chicks fledge at 5 to 6 weeks of age.

Conservation status

The barking owl is not listed as threatened on a federal level in Australia but is considered 'Threatened' in Victoria and 'Vulnerable' in New South Wales. Habitat loss, particularly the loss of large, hollow-bearing trees, is the primary threat to this species. The decline in native prey species and the potential for secondary poisoning from rabbit control measures are also concerns.

Similar Species

There are no similar species mentioned in the provided content.

Diet and Feeding

Barking owls have a diverse diet, preying on a range of animals including mammals, birds, bats, insects, and occasionally other small creatures. They are versatile hunters, capturing prey on the ground, in trees, from the air, and on water surfaces.

Mythology

The barking owl's scream, which resembles a woman or child in distress, has been linked to the Australian myth of the bunyip. This creature was said to inhabit swamps and rivers, and its cries were feared by early settlers. While the barking owl's call may have contributed to the legend, it is not definitively proven to be the source of the bunyip myth.

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Barking Owl Fun Facts

Did you know?
The Barking Owl sounds like a barking dog, and has a more intense scream-like call, earning the nickname “Screaming Woman” bird.

Barking Owls on Birda

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